NEWS

NSW Enduring 'Catastrophic' Fire Threat As Heat, Humidity, Strong Winds Combine

The conditions were 'without precedent', fire services warned.

12/02/2017 7:32 AM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2017 2:20 AM AEDT
Nick Noir / Fairfax Media

Sunday saw the worst fire conditions in the history of New South Wales, reaching a "catastrophic" rating for the Upper Hunter, Central Ranges, and Upper Central West Plains.

While the extent of the damage from the state's 97 blazes -- 32 of which were uncontained -- is not yet fully known, dozens of properties have been destroyed and many farmers are reporting lost livestock and crops. Emergency warning were issued for five fires across the state.

With temperatures exceeding 47 in some parts of the state, the NSW Rural Fire Service issued the warnings for Kains Flat near Mudgee, Boggabri, Leadville near Dunedoo, Dondingalong and Beechwood, with many residents told it's "too late to leave" and to "seek shelter".

As conditions eased overnight, all five of the emergency warnings were eventually downgraded to 'watch and act'. Kains Flat was the last to be downgraded at around midnight Sunday. However, some of the fires are still 'out of control' with the NSW RFS telling residents to remain vigilant.

Dondingalong

Properties came "under direct threat" in Dondingalong -- 10km south of Kempsey -- as a fire burns near Spring Hill Road and Rainbows End Road. Smoke was visible from the Pacific Highway on Sunday afternoon and people in the area weren advised to seek shelter as the fire front arrives -- by the time the warning was issued, it was too late to leave.

Kains Flat

An out-of-control fire is burning near White Cedars Rd in Kains Flat -- north-east of Mudgee -- and is moving in an easterly direction. Residents near Wollar and Cumbo were evacuated towards Bylong where possible.

Leadville

At Leadville, near Dunedoo, a fire breached containment lines and is burning in an easterly direction towards Cassilis. Although the fire was downgraded to 'watch and act' late on Sunday night as conditions eased, the fire is large, still covering almost 42,000 hectares as of Sunday night. A southerly change has impacted the fire-ground and the fire is now moving north towards Leadville and Coolah. Weather conditions are causing highly eratic behavour. If you are a resident, visit the RFS website for advice.

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Boggabri

A grass fire moved quickly in an easterly direction near Binalong Rd in Boggabri, north-west NSW. The fire crossed the Kamilaroy Highway and the Namoi River. Residents were told to take shelter on Sunday. One person were flown to a Sydney hospital after suffering burns, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service. The fire was downgraded to watch and act early Sunday evening.

Beechwood

Two fires spread quickly in a south easterly direction near Pappinbarra Rd in Beechwood, west of Wauchope -- 50km east of Port Macquarie. The fire spread quickly under worsening conditions.

A number of homes have been destroyed, but the extent of the damage won't be known until Monday.

Three People Arrested

Three men have been arrested for lighting fires during the state's total fire ban on Sunday, none relating to the five emergency fires.

A man has been charged following a bushfire at Mangrove Creek, on the Central Coast of NSW. Police observed in two locations that were extinguished, no building structures were damaged. The 40-year-old was arrested at the scene and refused bail, charged with setting fire to land of other during total fire ban and intentionally cause fire and be reckless as to its spread.

A 13-year-old boy has been arrested in Orange following a grass fire causing the evacuation of an animal shelter. Police were told a group of teenagers were seen walking along the grassed area, one of these teens was allegedly seen lighting fires before the grass caught alight and the group fled.

A 32-year-old man is assisting police after deliberately lit fires started at the Dargavilles Road area at Nabiac, on the NSW north coast.

Why Were The Conditions So 'Catastrophic'?

Firefighters have been enduring "catastrophic" fire danger conditions caused by extreme heat, strong winds and low humidity. In these conditions, blazes spread quickly and are very difficult for firefighters to contain

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says there are dozens of homes under threat. There is no indication fires have been deliberately lit, he added.

At 1pm AEDT there were more than 70 fires burning across the state, this increased to 87 by 3pm. Seven other fires are at "watch and act" level, RFS advises, with those blazes burning in the Gloucester, Mid-Coast and Port Macquarie local government areas.

Firefighters are bracing for southerly winds notorious for creating extremely dangerous conditions.

The RFS said telephone warning messages had been sent to homes and mobile telephones in the area affected by catastrophic fire danger.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described the conditions as being "as bad as it gets", telling Fairfax Media that the forecast was "without precedent in NSW".

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said it would be tough day for many across the state.

"The simple message to the community in those areas particularly affected by catastrophic fire conditions is, do not be in a position where you may find yourself in front of a fire because you won't survive it," Rogers told ABC television.

"Just avoid being in those areas today and make sure that you're well away from the potentially fire affected areas."

The predicted fire danger comes as many parts of the nation swelter through a heatwave that saw the mercury climb past 40 degrees Celsius in NSW, South Australia, the ACT and Queensland on Saturday.

In Sydney, where temperatures climbed into the high 40s on Saturday, it is now officially the hottest summer in the city on record, with 10 summer days over 35C, according to Bureau of Meteorology.

Most capital cities are forecast to be cooler on Sunday except for Brisbane which is predicted to reach a maximum of 39C.

In some parts of Queensland's south, the heat is forecast to be so extreme that temperature records could tumble for the second day in a row, according to NewsCorp Australia.

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